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Sensational AutoTram Streamliner Powered by a V-16 Cadillac Engine

Seeing a need for a modern high-speed-gasoline-powered train car for short runs the Clark Equipment Company of Buchanan, MI constructed a pair of “AutoTram” Streamliners in 1932. The vehicle in the lead image weighed twenty-six thousand pounds and seated forty passengers in the all-aluminum alloy coachwork featuring a forced ventilation and heating system, it was constructed by the Aluminum Company of America.

For comfort and a smooth ride, the “AutoTram” featured Clark-Goodrich resilient wheels consisting of an inner rubber cushion and a cast steel wheel. Power for the train car was provided by an OHV Series 452 V-16 Cadillac engine producing one-hundred and sixty-five h.p. The three-inch bore by four-inch stroke engine was fed by two single-barrel updraft carburetors. A dual exhaust system exited below the tapered tail at the rear of the coachwork.

View an enlargement of the lead photo and two sectional enlargements (below) by Johnson & Johnson of Pittsburgh, PA for the Aluminum Company of America, courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library. To learn more view a news clip film “The Torpedo Car” by British Pathe.

  • 1933 Century of Progress Exposition photo of the smaller of the two “AutoTrams” that were constructed. Clark Equipment Company postcard (below) courtesy of Railarchive.net

20 responses to “Sensational AutoTram Streamliner Powered by a V-16 Cadillac Engine

  1. I have often described a V-16 Cadillac as a road locomotive p, I just never knew they were also used on rails! Great article, and a fantastic site. Thanks for all you do. Ed Minnie

  2. It’s as if someone combined an automobile, a bus, a train passenger car, a boat, and an airplane minus the wings and tail.

  3. Clark built a handful of more conventional trolleys. They made the six Bluebirds for New York City in the late 30s, which ran on the Canarsie Line until 1956 (some sites will say five, but the prototype and all five production units entered service). They also made one PCC in 1936, which ran on the Brooklyn & Queens as car #1000 and is preserved at the Trolley Museum of New York.

    However, they also built the trucks for Pullman PCC cars, so they were more involved in trolley programs as a subcontractor.

  4. In the lead picture, just beyond the AUTOTRAM & 2nd car from the left, is what looks like a four-door 1931 BUICK.

    In the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition picture it looks like a much larger grille.

    By the way very interesting pictures !!

  5. Clark Equipment Company sure made some strange stuff over the years……..
    Bought by Ingersol Rand in 1995 they were sold to Doosan International of South Korea in 2007.

    RIP Clark Equipment.

  6. Just for kicks. In 1930 the French built several railcars powered by twin engines from the Bugatti Royale (type 41). Those were 8-in-line motors, 12.8 liters displacement (780 c. i.) with 200 HP. The vehicles attained over 120 mph.

    • Another French connection: the aptly-named Michelines — which should be considered contemporaries. This train should also be considered a connection between gas-powered (petrol, not LNG or LPG) Doodlebugs built by Winton and EMD and etc. from the early 1900s into the early 1930s and the diesel -powered steel-wheeled stainless-steel RDCs built by Budd (aptly named “Buddliners”) from the late 1940s into the early 1960s. One of which was jet-powered — and still holds the US railroad speed record. Not bad for a car built back in 1966.

      If interested,:

      cite du trains mulhouse

      classic streamliners rpc budd

      old machine press NYC Black Beetle

      And if attending a hill climb in VT, you can climb on a Buddliner in NH not far from the oldest US hill climb.

      And take a train ride.. Even if Climb to the Clouds and Race to the Clouds and Trento Bondone are steeper

      conwaydailysun/business/local/conway-scenic-branching-out-to-redstone-tracks/article_813fd0ce-75b2-11e9-9ba0-b704d50eadc2.html

      autoweek/article/rally/mount-washingtons-climb-clouds-hillclimb-returning-new-hampshire-2020

      gazette/multimedia/photos-the-broadmoor-pikes-peak-international-hill-climb–/collection_11fe02ea-9956-11e9-a452-c31a1c9a7be5.html#4

      And before I drive off in my Peugeot 403 Cabriolet, just one more thing: the first streamlined passenger train appeared before the 1934 Pioneer Zephyr (which appeared before the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr…) and it was the 1933 Budd Silver Slipper.

      Failure as car; fun as fact.

  7. I wonder what the “mechanical drive and special hydraulic clutch” were? Sort of a torque converter that let the car accelerate from rest without a change speed box?

  8. Not probable, but fun to imagine that those Cadillac V16 engines are still squirreled away in some old Battle Creek warehouse awaiting rediscovery someday.

    • Do V-16s in Battle Creek go “Snap, crackle and pop”?

      I wonder what condition the engines were in when removed?
      If they were fresh…or even serviceable…they would likely mean they were saved…perhaps they’re in a restored car.

  9. McKeen did something similar many years earlier but it wasn’t a success, primarily becasue thye couldn’t find a sutable power plant. The Virginia & Tuckee (Carson City) still runs one, but with a CAT diesel engine.

    • I think you’ll find the problem was not so much with the engine as with the ‘transmission’. McKeen somewhat unwisely chose to place his engine transversely on the frame of the ‘motor truck’, a location sure to produce all sorts of road-shock effect on things like main bearings. (You might think this would work with better isolation, and this was tried a half-century later with the Maybach engines and hydrokinetic transmission of some of the lightweight trains … with not much better result)

      The principal problem was that McKeen had no good, light but strong, cost-effective transmission. What he chose involved a somewhat rickety clutch driving an enormous Morse chain direct to the oversized driving wheels; this failed and failed and failed and, truth to tell, it’s difficult to see how with any sensible kind of primary suspension that would give good riding on a lightweight railcar it could ever have worked. It did not help performance either: lugging one of those larger gas engines in that era resulted in hideous amounts of blue smoke and stink, and premature carbon deposits that were hell to remove.

      GE had a very sensible answer very early in the game (an almost modern design of V-8 driving an electric generator) and had some success right up to WW1. It is instructive to look at the problems they had, and how the slightly later Electro-Motive Company came up with a game-winning strategy… for cheap, government-mandated branch line services. The idea of sleek 100mph motor trains didn’t even begin with the Bluebird to the Mayo Clinic, and once it did we saw an almost depressing pattern of ‘consumer success’ being followed by larger, more expensive trains at large scale, with lightweight service being directed to secondary runs where high speed was decidedly secondary too.

      It seems odd to me that railroads, confronted in the late ’20s with the Pickwick Nite Coach, did not think of adapting that idea to fast but inexpensive rail travel with amenities. All the pieces were in place with the AutoTram — all but the problem of good riding on jointed track at the vaunted 100mph, a similar issue but with different mechanics to what the McKeen cars had. It takes a lot of care to get a lightweight vehicle to go fast, whether light or fully loaded, reliably. And it’s interesting to speculate what could be done to either a McKeen or one of these later cars to make them ride smoothly, air secondary springing and various forms of hydroelastic damping being a ‘thing’ by the time of the AutoTram.

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